During Mark Dermul’s last ‘Trip to Tatooine’ in May 2010, the fans were heartbroken over the state of the Lars Homestead exterior set, in the salt desert south of Nefta, deep in the heartland of Tunisia. They came up with the now world famous plan to save the iconic movie location. In less than 10 months, no less than 425 ‘saviours’ donated to get together the required $10K to make this happen. This is their report.
On May 25th 2012, the 35th Anniversary of A New Hope, the 6 Saviours got together in Belgium, to kick off their project. The 4 ‘founding fathers’ Mark Dermul (Belgium), Terry Cooper (UK), Mark Cox (UK) and Robert Cunningham (USA) were joined by Imanuel Dijk (Netherlands) and Michel Verpoorten (Belgium) and took off to Tunisia on Saturday 26th May, where they landed at noon.
After a 400 kilometre trek across Tunisia, they finally arrived in Tozeur to meet up with the local government and contractor, where final preparations were made to start the restoration proper. On Sunday, since no work could be done, we had to limit ourselves to assessing the damage of the igloo and make a list of required materials and tools. The damage was serious and we knew we would have our work cut out for us. But this only strengthened our resolve.
We prepped the site on Monday afternoon in a sweltering heat of 43°C (or 110°F), clearing the site of debris and discarding the non-salvageable parts of the igloo. What was left was a skeleton that looked even worse, but it had to be done. The bottom part of the homestead, as well as the entry arch had to be completely reinforced with wooden batons, panels and chicken wire to make sure it would last the test of time.
On Tuesday morning, our materials and tools arrived, as did our local team of 3 builders. The hired workforce was a tremendous help. Without their knowledge of building in these harsh conditions, we would not have pulled it off. So kudos to Abdellatif, Ali and Kasem. They clearly had no trouble working in this heat, while we were suffering badly. Dehydration set in rather quickly and we soon found ourselves in need of shelter from temperatures way above what we would consider healthy to work in. But by noon, we had finished all the reinforcement work and figured we were actually ahead of schedule. The desert, however, figured otherwise.
After the first layer of cement was put on the base of the igloo on Wednesday morning, we wanted to start plastering, but by then it was almost noon and the heat was totally unbearable. The mix dried up faster than we could apply it, so we had to give up. There was just no use. The local builders explained that for them, a working day starts at 6am and stops at noon. We Saviours – in our overconfidence – went back from 5pm until sundown, to do what we could. Usually it was little, but we just couldn't bear the thought of wasting half a day. We knew the world was watching. We had to get this done. And done properly. The positive response by fans to our daily updates on Facebook kept us focused. We had to keep at it. But truth be told, we spent most of those afternoon hours sheltering, applying sun block factor 50, gulping down water and cursing the desert conditions. It was a living hell.
By now, Thursday morning, the final day that we could work on the igloo (we needed the whole of Friday to return to Jerba and the airport for the Saturday morning flight), we were starting to get a little nervous. Time was running out fast and a lot still had to be done. And we had lost Terry to a stomach bug, so he had to stay behind in Tozeur. Luckily we ran into an old friend – Colin Kenworthy – and he happily joined our pitiful little band to help out. But again, thanks to the diligence of the local workers (who actually helped us out until 1.30pm because they felt responsible too), we got all the plastering done before they called it a day. It was a warm goodbye. We had truly bonded over these past few days. But now we were on our own and we still had a lot of work to do: putting in place the decoration on both the door arch and the so-called entry-coder that Terry had devised, based of footage from A New Hope. And then we still had to paint the whole thing. But the desert mocked us and forced us to get indoors.
We had no other option than to apply a double layer of sun block, grit our teeth and get back out there at 4.30pm. The sun beat down on us while we put on 40 litres of white paint, turning the igloo back into its pristine shape. We did not weather it ourselves, since we knew the desert would do that for us in due course. Three months from now, the igloo will look like it did in Attack of the Clones. Give it six months and it will look like it did in A New Hope. We wanted this process to occur naturally. By 7pm, while we had only a half hour of daylight left, the last brushstrokes applied and the site completely cleaned up, we could take a step back and sigh. We did it. The Lars Homestead was totally rejuvenated and even stronger than before, making sure it will last longer than a decade this time.
We have erected a plaque explaining about the project in detail (in Arabic, French and English), in hopes of protecting the homestead from overzealous fans who feel inclined to take home a souvenir. Let that souvenir be a nice photograph, ok? Leave the igloo alone. Respect her. Allow her to remain there for generations of fans to come. After all, that’s why we did what we did. By the fans, for the fans.
We are currently working very hard on getting a new website launched detailing the project with loads of photos in hi-res for your enjoyment. But we are also editing a 15 minute video that we plan to put on YouTube for everyone to see (you can already see our dailies on YouTube, just type in Save Lars). Lastly, we plan to create a coffee table book with loads of new photos that no one has seen at this point and were taken by our professional photographer Michel – they will blow you away!
I would like to thank all the people who supported this project, either through generous donation, authorisation, moral support or otherwise, but also my fellow Saviours who – quite literally – shed blood, sweat and tears with me in Tunisia. We are friends for life, united in this magnificent project that we had been preparing for two years and saw through to completion. The Force was truly with us.
‘Save the Lars Homestead’ is now ‘The Lars Homestead Saved’!